The thought of your dog having surgery is a scary one. Sure, there are some surgeries (like spaying a female dog) that’s become so common, many tend to think of it as routine. But spaying a female dog is major, invasive surgery! To put it in perspective, think about a human having a hysterectomy. It’s the same procedure. In most cases, the surgery entails removing the dog’s ovaries and uterus. So, it should be no surprise that little Fifi will need ample down time to recover and plenty of care.
Proper post-surgical home care for your dog is crucial to her recovery. The best way to recover safely and uneventfully is to first understand the procedure and then get familiar with your veterinarian’s post-op instructions. Read on for some basics on spaying and what to expect.
What Is Spaying?
When your dog is spayed, she will be put under general anesthesia. So, your dog will be fully asleep and intubated (AKA a breathing tube will be put down her throat). While she is under, the veterinarian will make an incision just below your dog’s belly button into the abdomen. Through this incision, she will remove the dog’s reproductive tract, both ovaries, and the uterus. Then, she will stitch the incision closed — those stitches will eventually dissolve. The exposed skin will also be closed with either skin glue, stitches, or, in some cases, staples.
Most often, female dogs are spayed to prevent unplanned pregnancy. After spay, a female will no longer have heat cycles and will be unable to get pregnant.
Then there are intact dogs who need to be spayed for medical reasons. Veterinarians say spay surgery decreases the chance of mammary/breast cancer and other reproductive cancers, as well as eliminates the possibility of pyometra (a potentially deadly uterine infection).
Scheduling The Appointment
If you haven’t already gone over the details, ask your vet to explain what you should expect on the day of surgery. Your vet will discuss eating/drinking restrictions the day before surgery, drop off time, surgery time, what exactly she’ll undergo, and the waking up process (more on this in the next section).
This is also a good time to discuss pain management. Request a basic copy of post-surgical instructions so you can get familiar with them. Being knowledgable and prepared always helps things go smoother when you get home.
Usually, your veterinary staff will schedule drop off for early in the morning (around 7 -8 am). However, your dog’s surgery may not actually take place until a few hours later. Meanwhile, you’re at home worrying and the surgery hasn’t even started. They request such an early dropoff for a few reasons: to ensure your dog doesn’t eat or drink anything, run any necessary tests, get the IV started, etc. To alleviate your own worries, ask your vet when your dog’s procedure is scheduled to start. Also, give them your phone number and ask the staff to keep you updated — when the surgery begins and as soon as it’s over.
When the surgery is over, your little girl will be taken to the post-op area where she will be monitored very closely. The staff will keep her warm and she may still get some fluids in her IV. Slowly, she’ll wake up from the anesthesia.
Most times, the techs will try to get her to urinate before going home. Sometimes a dog will go home without peeing first just because things could be slowed down after anesthesia. If that’s the case, make sure she passes her urine at some point later that same day.
Discharge To Home
Take someone with you when you go to pick up your pooch. This way one person can drive and the other can take charge of her.
Don’t be surprised if she is somewhat whiney when you get her. She’s been through a lot — physically and emotionally! You’ll also notice she’s still a bit groggy and wobbly from the anesthesia. It’ll likely be 12 to 24 hours before the full effects wear off. This is a good thing, though, because rest and quiet time are best for your recovering girl.
As far as pain meds, your vet will have already medicated her for pain. But she will send you home with additional pain meds for the next few days. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be sent home with anti-inflammatory medication and maybe even an antibiotic. The doctor will decide what’s best for your dog.
When you get home, you’ll want to get your girl settled. Hopefully, you’ve already set up an area where she can rest safely and comfortably. She is going to need a lot of rest now.
Keep Her Warm
As I mentioned a minute ago, after anesthesia, it can take approximately 12 – 24 hours to clear your dog’s system. During this period she won’t be able to regulate her body temperature normally so it’s important to keep her warm enough. You don’t want to overheat her, just give her some blankets and monitor her so she doesn’t get chilled or too hot.
If you ever had a surgical procedure yourself, you know that you can feel a bit nauseous after having anesthesia. Go slow with the food. Your vet will give you guidelines on how to feed her when you get home. She’ll probably tell you to feed her 1/4 to 1/2 of what she would normally eat. If she is feeling good enough to eat … go slow. If not, she may need a little more time for her appetite to return.
Before you leave your vet’s office the day of surgery, take a good look at the incision. Having a baseline and knowing what’s normal is the easiest way to detect if something starts to look wrong. During the next few days (and even next few weeks), you’ll need to keep a close eye on the incision. Monitor it several times a day.
The suture line should appear as a clean line where both the edges of the skin sutured together touch neatly. There may be some redness and a small amount of bloody or liquidy seepage on the day of surgery.
There should never be a lot of drainage from the incision line, swelling, bumps, or any open areas. Monitor your dog for any increased bleeding, drainage, separating of the incision, swelling, redness, pain, odors, or smelly discharge. Notify your vet immediately if you notice changes.
Also, never allow your dog to lick or gnaw at the incision.
Most vets will have you leave with an Elizabethan collar. This is to prevent your pooch from licking or chewing at his incision. It’s natural for her to want to try and lick her wounds, but the last thing you want is for your dog to pull her stitches out. This can become a medical emergency. The skin is one of the bodies first lines of defense. Intact skin helps keep the microbes out. Keeping your dog’s cone collar on so she can’t accidentally disturb the healing process of the incision will help in preventing potential infection. Your vet will tell you how long to keep the collar on, but it’s usually for about 10 days.
Daily Activity While Recuperating
The best thing for your pooch for a quick and uneventful recovery is going to be rest. Just like with a human, the more she rests the quicker things can knit themselves back together and heal. Limiting activity is a little easier during the first couple of days because she’s not feeling very well. But, after that, when she starts to feel a little better, she’s going to want to get back to business. Yep, she’s going to want to play. Whatever you have to do, do it to keep her calm. Maybe you can have some lazy days and just watch tv with her. I know my pooches love when I lazy around – they’ll stay in bed all day if I do.
Make Sure There is NO:
- Jumping onto or off of the couch.
- Jumping onto or off of the bed.
- Running up or down the stairs.
- Activity at all of any kind that will put a strain on the incision! An open incision can quickly escalate and become a medical emergency.
- Playing around with other dogs or pets for up to two weeks.
- Running off-leash.
- Extendable leashes.
- Bathing the dog for at least 10 days
Bathroom walks should be brief and taken on a short leash. At no time should your dog be allowed to run free off of her leash to relieve herself – even if it’s only in your backyard. To limit exposure to extra contaminants, walk your dog in the cleanest area you can find (where not too many other dogs relieve themselves). This is especially important for small dogs whose bellies aren’t too far off the ground. You have no idea of the bacteria and parasites that could be lurking on that grass, which can brush against her wound. The last thing you want is an infection! If you have a backyard that only your dog goes, that’s the best. But remember … on a short leash!
Although post-op complications from spay surgery are rare, they can happen. Your best defense to ward off possible complications would be to follow your vet’s instructions and monitor your girl closely. Taking it slow for a couple of weeks will be well worth it in the end. I can’t stress enough — rest, rest, rest!